Sometimes the things I say surprise me. It’s as if I don’t know how I truly feel about something until I have “word vomited” everything else out of my head.

I will talk and talk about how I think I feel and sometimes, if I’m lucky, a bit of truth eventually falls out. And when it does, when I realize what I’ve actually been trying to say, I’m caught off guard.

Over the past week, four different people have asked me why I chose to stay on Isle au Haut for another year. Why didn’t I pass on the option to renew my contract with the Island Institute so I could move back to the “real world” and live the life of a “normal” 20-something?

The first few times I heard the question I fumbled out an answer. I threw out phrases like “professional development” and “job security.” I expressed my desire to see a few projects to completion. I talked about my love for the people out here.

But it wasn’t until talking with Abi, a new island resident, that the real answer finally fell out. I found myself talking about experiences and the lessons I’ve learned from the folks out here.

I laughed as I talked about taking the boat to the mainland last Christmas Eve and how we belted out carols during the 40-minute ride.

I described how surreal it is to play “Guess how many people are on the island right now!” and be able to go around and literally count every single person.

I expressed the admiration I have for how hard people have to work to make it out here and how beautiful it is to see people put forth so much effort to live in a place they love.

I explained how I perform in all of the school’s plays. There are only four boys in our one-room schoolhouse; someone needs to play the female roles!

And in an age when people are spending so much time connecting virtually, it’s refreshing to walk down our one street and not see people with their faces buried in iPhones, iPads or whatever else. Islanders make eye contact, smile and wave. When they ask, “How are you?” it’s not a reflexive response to your “hello”; they genuinely care.

I continued talking about the little things (waving to Lee every morning as I walk to the post office, knitting lessons from Lisa) with no rhyme or reason until I eventually added, “”¦any good I am doing for this community pales in comparison to the good the community is doing for me.” 

I think that sums it up. Why do I stay? Because this island and the experiences it provides have made me a better person. It’s as simple as that.

Megan Wibberly is an Island Fellow through AmeriCorps and the Island Institute.